L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia
Company of New France
Company of New France. The Company of New France, or the One Hundred Associates, was created by Cardinal Richelieu, in 1627, as part of his programme of developing France's external trade, and officially established by an edict of Louis XIII dated May, 1628. Displacing the Montmorency company, the new association was formed with a capital of 300,000 livres divided into 100 shares. It included among its members Richelieu, some state officers, many officials and a number of merchants, as well as Champlain and Razilly. The management was entrusted to twelve directors, who were to meet under the intendant for New France, Jean de Lauzon.
The Associates agreed to transport to Canada 4,000 colonists before 1653, the colonists to be supported during their first three years in the colony. Only native French Catholics were to be sent out, and ecclesiastics were to be maintained in each settlement. In return the Company was granted in perpetuity the whole country of New France from Florida to the Arctic circle aid from Newfoundland to lake Huron and beyond. It was free to distribute lands, but titles of nobility had to be confirmed by the king; it was moreover granted for ever the monopoly of the fur-trade, and for fifteen years all other trade but cod and whale fishing was to be open to all French subjects. Colonists not maintained by the Company were free to barter with the Indians on condition of selling their furs to the Company at forty sots for every good beaver. All merchandise to or from New France was to be free of duty for fifteen years. Indians professing the Catholic faith were to be reckoned as French citizens. All previous grants and monopolies were cancelled.
The same year (1628), the Company fitted four ships with colonists, provisions, and cattle, which were captured by the Kirke brothers. In 1629, a second expedition resulted in one ship being wrecked and one taken, though Captain Daniel with a third ship succeeded in storming the British post at Cape Breton; but Quebec had to surrender to Kirke, and Canada passed under the British flag. In 1630, the Company sent to Acadia, which was partly in British hands, an expedition to strengthen the posts at Cape Sable and St. John, which still increased its deficit.
By 1631, the Company was totally ruined. In 1632, on Acadia and Canada being restored to France, and again in 1637, it ceded its monopoly with its obligations to a subsidiary company, formed from among the shareholders, on its paying 10,000 livres annually, while the Associates retained the land ownership and administration of the country. Under this arrangement, Champlain returned to Quebec in 1633, with the first Company's colonists (200 in number) to reach the country. Unable to send more men, the Company inaugurated a system of distributing large tracts of lands carrying seignioral rights with the understanding that men brought over by the owners to settle their seigniorie's would "serve to the discharge of the said Company in diminution of the number it is obliged to send out." Thanks to this policy, the active propaganda of the Jesuits' Relations, and a system of importing "three-year labourers" [the engagés], the country received a certain immigration.
In the meantime, the Company was sentenced to indemnify the Montmorency company to the amount of 79,900 livres for the loss of its privilege, and ran, by 1643, into a debt of 410,796 livres. In 1641, owing to losses by the second subsidiary company, the Associates had been forced to resume the furtrade with its consequent administrative expenditure. They readily consented to transfer it, in 1645, to a Canadian company, called the Compagnie des Habitants for an annual shipment of 1,000 beavers and the discharge of the Company's obligations. This agreement endured till the suppression of the Company.
In the meantine, the Associates continued to select the governors and appoint the administrative officials, and to grant seigniories while the trade and financial regulations were .left to the Compagnie des Habitants. Through their land policy, greatly helped by the foundation of Montreal and the religious communities and the more wealthy seigniors, the country received a dribbling additional population. In 1651, the Company established a regular system of judicial administration, with courts in Quebec, Montreal, and Three Rivers, while the missionaries were extending their activities to several distant Indian tribes. The country was thus on the upgrade of a slow development, when the Iroquois war broke upon it, wiping out the fur-providing Hurons, disrupting trade and threatening the infant colony) with destruction. Lauzon was a weakling in the gubernatorial seat, and later Bishop Laval antagonized Argenson and Avaugour. In the vortex of these difficulties, the Company, which was now reduced to 36 shareholders, became financially and morally bankrupt, and could do nothing but petition the king for decrees, which were of no practical avail, as no help came from the Court, which was now enmeshed in the Fronde civil war. Things went from bad to worse. Before the impending catastrophe, Louis XIV, inspired by Colbert, asked for the surrender of its charter, owing to the Company's inability to settle and protect the country against the Iroquois. In March, 1663, New France was reunited to the domain of the Crown.
In Acadia, after sending a few ships with provisions, between 1629 and 1631, the Company contented itself with granting, with all its rights, large tracts of land to Razilly (1632), Latour (1635), the Miscou Company, (1636), and Denys (1653), to whom were left both the settlement and the trade of the Atlantic colony.
In 1663, when the Company went out of existence, Canada harboured a population of about 2,500 inhabitants, who were centred along the St. Lawrence near Quebec, Three Rivers and Montreal, which number was far fewer than the 4,000 souls stipulated for in 1643. The country was organized with a regular administration, colleges, convents, and hospitals. But this represents less the work of the Company than of the individual seigniors and religious communities. Still, the Company claimed that it had expended 905,084 livres for the good of New France for a return of only 242,301 livres, and for several years petitioned Louis XIV for the reimbursement of 1,200,000 livres plus interest and the value of the thousand beavers for several years. But, in 1687, the king reduced the claim - capital and interest - to 103,000 livres which he undertook to pay to the heirs of the last shareholders.
Source : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. II, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 411p., pp. 111-113.
© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College